Engagement, Not Embargo, In Iran

It is an odd sight to see the U.S. deeply engaged in serious negotiations with one outlaw nation, North Korea, while it moves to totally isolate another rogue regime, Iran. The embargo announced by President Clinton may appear sensible, given Tehran's propensity to support terrorists and its clear desire to build nuclear weapons. However, Washington's tough actions may end up yielding only angry European and Japanese allies, lost U.S. business, and an even more paranoid, hostile Persian foe.

By trying to isolate Iran, rather than engage it, Washington alienates that part of Iran's governing elite that has been pushing for normal relations with the West. In fact, Tehran's recent decision to choose Conoco Inc. rather than a French company to develop an oil field was the first obvious effort to begin dealing with the U.S., at least in narrow economic arenas, since the hostage crisis that ended 14 years ago. Had the Clinton Administration permitted Conoco to proceed, it might have been the first of many bilateral ties.

As it is, the American embargo will have little effect. Germany's sales to Iran totaled $2 billion in 1994, and it hopes to sell even more. France, Britain, and other nations have also made it clear they intend to go on ignoring Washington's pleas. The U.S. has no lock on oil-field equipment or energy technology, and Iran will shop the global bazaars for what it needs.

If there is a model for restraining outlaw nations from making nuclear weapons, it is the one Washington is building with Pyongyang. It involves both carrots and sticks. So far, it appears to be working in north Asia. It's probably the best shot in the Middle East as well.

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